C.S. LEWIS (1898 – 1963 )
When born: Clive Staples Lewis was born on 29 November 1898 – more than 110 years ago! His mum died when he was just 9 years old but luckily he was best friends with his little brother Warren, who was seven years younger than him, and they were very close for the rest of their lives.
Where born: In Belfast in Ireland. Many great writers have come from Ireland (and I’m not just saying that because “Brennan” is an Irish name)!
School days: After his mum died, Clive (or “Jack” as he preferred to be called) went to boarding school just one mile away from home. But the headmaster was so cruel to all the boys and the teaching was so boring that kids kept leaving, until the school closed down just one year after Jack arrived! Two years later he went to another boarding school, but again, he only lasted there one year. After that he went to study with a private tutor, and that was the end of ordinary school for Jack!
Why and when he began writing: Like a lot of authors, Jack started writing when he was just a child. He and his brother Warren played long imaginary games in the attic of their home, about a mythical country called “Boxen”, and they wrote and drew about it all the time. He was a great reader too, and best of all loved reading Viking myths and legends. Maybe this was why his very first published work, when he was 28 years old and a tutor at Oxford University, was a long mythological poem about a fantasy world called “Dymer”. Around the same time, Jack met and became lifelong friends with JRR Tolkien, who many of you already know as the author of the The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. But it wasn’t until 1948, when Jack was 50 years of age, that he began his first and most famous children’s book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (see my Brilliant Books page for more about this amazing book).
Why I love C.S. Lewis’s children’s books: At face value, C.S. Lewis’s books for children are simply exciting and mysterious stories about a fantasy world of children, strange adults and magical animals, which are very hard to put down! But on a deeper level,the stories are all about the age old struggle between Good and Evil, the Light and the Darkness which is the basis of all religions and philosophy and has kept mankind busy thinking, dreaming and wondering since ancient times. That’s why I love these books and maybe also why they are still read today by children and adults, scholars, poets and thinkers alike.
When C.S.Lewis was just three years old, he announced that his name from now on was going to be “Jack” after his neighbour’s dog, called Jacksie, and he remained “Jack” to his family and friends for the rest of his life.
The first part of Narnia came to Jack was when he was 16 years old, when he suddenly imagined a faun (or half human/half goat) carrying parcels in a snowy forest. But it wasn’t until 1948, 34 years later, that the faun became Mr Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Jack was a very committed Christian who gave away two thirds of his income to charity, sat at the bedsides of sick people and also personally helped many poor people.
He is now known as one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century, and wrote more than thirty important works about Christianity, literature and philosophy.
He died on the same day as President J.F. Kennedy of the United States, on 22 November 1963, just 6 days short of his 65th birthday.
About his childhood: “I am the product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also of endless books.“
“There were books in the study, books in the drawing-room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents’ interests, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most empathically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves…”
Now that’s how someone becomes a great writer!
And about the sort of books he wrote: “I wrote the books I should have liked to read. That’s always been my reason for writing.”
Useful websites: There are many websites devoted to this famous writer, most of them for adults. Some good detailed websites are the official website at www.cslewis.com, and www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/people/cslewis.